Lesson 5: Animating to Dialogue | Working with Audio

This lesson introduces you to the following:

At the end of the lesson, there's an assessment that allows you to demonstrate your understanding of the process by animating to dialogue.

Animation needs Audio

Adding audio to animation is very worthwhile. Our brains are wired up in a way that allows vision and audio to be processed very quickly, this ability to process vision and audio is know as "multimodal" processing. We're very efficient at it.

Producing an animation without audio is a missed opportunity.

Adding audio to your animation adds further meaning.

Sound-savvy animators save precious resources (time, effort and money) by using audio so they don't necessarily have to create visuals eg. the sound of a crow gives viewers a sense of the crow without needing to even see the crow.

Play this audio file (opposite). You can't see the crow but you can get a lot of the "crow atmosphere" from just the sound. Warning it's very "HiFi" so lower the volume.

Crow sound Stuart Fisher Creative Commons 2.5 (35 secs)

Where there's a terrifying / dramatic sequence or scene in an animated film, choose a low frequency sound; low frequencies convey a sense of chaos and dis-orientation, because the ear can't determine its origin or direction. Place this with high-pitch "screeches" and the effect can be dramatic.


Producing an animation without audio is like trying to ski without poles. You can still do it but it's so much more effective with them.

Audio adds value to your message. Next time you watch a TV advertisment that runs silently think about how effective it is and how effective it could be with a voice-over, foley noises or ambient backing track or both. Also consider if your viewer has visual impairment; adding audio can help their comprehension..

Recording audio and importing it into Animate.

How do I record audio?
logitech micYou'll need a microphone (mic), or a device with a microphone. Most entry level digital cameras have one. Most mobile phones too. The USB mic like the one opposite (around $34 AUD) is recommended.

Hint: acoustically isolate the mic by sitting it on soft material like a sock or folded tea-towel. If you don't, your mic picks up on low-to-middle frequency noises through its surface it's sitting on.

It's a desktop mic and uni-directional (records over a narrow beam) so talk directly to it.

USB mics are more expensive but have very little electrical noise. Standard mics can be very cheap (and still be adequate for this exercise) but suffer more than USB mics from static electrical noise.

If you don't have a mic, there are numerous alternative techniques for recording sound on a Mac or PC. Modern macs and PC laptops have mics built-in. You might even get by with using your smart phone to record the sound. Check your 'phone's user manual to see if it does.


Which Software is best for audio recording and editing ?
There's a lot of options out there to choose from but for this course, Audacity is recommended. Professionals use a range of tools, Steinberg CuBase 8 is a popular choice.

Adobe Audition is the next best option and comes packaged with Adobe Creative Cloud; it's a very powerful and flexible tool and has all you need to record and process sound including noise removal using notch filters, hum and buzz removal. It's used by this department to process audio.

Note: support for Audition in the this delivery is minimal, if you need help using Audition jump into our 2D Animation and ask for help there.

If you don't have access to Audition, Audacity is a good option for both Mac and PC.

bnAudacity is a wise choice, it's free to use and has extensive user support and offers a lot of functionality that fits our needs for this module.

Installing Audacity
If you need to know how to install Audacity (in this case, for Windows) check out "Edsploration's" tutorial videos on YouTube video.


Basic Editing using Audacity
For a text reference on making basic edits, eliminating / filtering-out defects, adjusting sound output levels and exporting as an MP3 ready for Flash, read the Audacity User Manual.

For help with understanding how to do basic edits in Audacity such as cuts and noise elimination you can't go past these YouTube videos by Colin Gray:

Basic Audacity Editing: Removing Audio Mistakes and Silences (7:48 mins)

Audacity Noise Removal: How to Reduce That Background Hiss (6:24 mins)


If you need assistance with anything related to audio, pop into our 2D Digital Animation Forum and ask for help there. Chances are someone else has encountered the same problem and can offer a solution.

Types of Audio

There are essentially four types of audio; dialogue (speech), ambient environmental sounds, ambient music and special effects aka SFX (including "foley" such as body noises/ rustling clothing, footsteps, clunks, scrapes, creaks etc).

In your animation assessment task consider all four types to add depth to your animation.


Audio Formats for Animate
Just like images come in all sorts of file formats, so too do digital audio files. The audio formats compatible with Animate are .mp3, .wav. and .aiff . mp3 is the most popular format. With Animate you can also import a video mp4 and "isolate" just the audio.

To use audio in Animate, you can either use ActionScript or Javascript to import it in from any local or remote URL or get it from local storage. The code method can retrieve the file from a specific place. The place could be anywhere on the network; internet or intranet. Doing it this way offers flexibility and keeps your files small. Getting it from local storage and embedding it can make your Animate file big.

For our purposes, though we're not going to use code to access the sound file but simply get it from local storage and embed (import) it in.

Importing it does make your Animate movie file bigger but for this next task it needs to be done this way because we need to see the sound waveform in order to match the visuals with the audio. Animate shows you the audio waveform if you import the sound. you can see the "peaks" and "troughs" to help you synchronise your artwork with the audio. This is the way animators work if they need to "synch" the animation to the sound.

Learning Task: Importing audio and animating to it.

In this task you import audio into Animate and create an animation that "fits" the audio theme and timing.

Download this audio effect lightshowguitarified.mp3 84kb.and save it to a folder.


Demo Video
There's a supporting video called itscoming.mp4 (84MB) available from our shared Google Drive folder that shows you how you might approach this task.


Submission Guide
Submit your .fla AND your mp3 sound in a single zipped folder via email.

If your audio file is big (greater than 4MB) consider down-sampling or converting to mono. This can save a lot of space and still sound fine. For info on how to do this see the audacity links above.

Chris Adams 2017

More Info on Sound Types in Animate
For an extensive explanation of the four sound types, see Incredible Tutorials @ 2:41 min there's info. on the benefits of using "Stream" as the audio type.

For further assistance with using audio in Animate, have a look at Part 1 (of a 3-part series) of video tutorials from Tom Green at Layers Magazine. Try Flash Perfection for a text-based tutorial too.

Assessment Task : Animate to Dialogue (12 - 18hrs)

If you've moved through the learning tasks you should now be in a position to do this assessment.

This task is designed to test your ability to animate to audio. You need to record spoken dialogue of up to 10 seconds duration on anything; your choice, and use the recorded dialogue as a basis for your animation.

Note: it doesn't have to be your own voice, ask a friend or relative to help you out if you choose.

For added depth and interest, include audio for special effects, background noise or foley effects (link to Wikipedia).

There's a demonstration video to support this assessment task.

Watch crowanim.mp4 available from our Google Drive folder. It shows how you go about synchronising artwork with the audio as well as "trace bitmap" and a few handy animation tricks. You might also find this helpful; Joseph Labrecque demonstrating a similar technique.

This task is an opportunity to explore. Obviously if you're new to Animate you'll have difficulty doing elaborate animation so stay within your limits and avoid sophisticated character animation, accurate lip-synch, changing perspective (3D) and atmospheric effects.

Remember you can use SFX (sound effects) to tell a story without too much effort (compared to animation).

You have up to 10 seconds to tell your story. A movie of 10 seconds duration running at 20 fps means 200 frames of artwork. Bear this in mind but also consider efficiences like using a single piece of artwork over several frames.

The scope of topic is vast, it's up to you. It doesn't need to be a full story, simply a 10 sec sound byte.

Think about the timing, pacing, write the script then get a friend or relative or yourself to speak and record dialogue.

Save it as .wav or .mp3 format. Play it back a few times to get a feel for the timing and nature of the sound (happy, sad, sombre, grim / forboding or frantic).

Use Audacity to edit the audio into bite-size pieces, get rid of surplus material, export as MP3s. Change its pitch for added drama.

Import the MP3s into Animate and use it as a basis for animation. At this stage, with keyframe animation & basic tweening "under your belt" you have enough to work with. If you get stuck, ask for help in our Animation forum.

Project Technical Specifications:
Set the stage to 720 wide, 405 high, 20fps. The duration of the animation should be around 10 secs.

Try to stay below 10 secs...note that at 20fps , a 10-second animation uses 200 frames to animate. You won't be penailsed if you go over.


Submission Guidelines:
To provide evidence for assessment, students need to submit the following:

  1. Submit the .fla in a single zipped folder using your preferred cloud storage service and share it via email.
  2. Copyright / Attribution; if you use someone else's work adhere to their licensing guidelines. If you're unsure of how to do this, ask in our General Info. Forum.


How you will be assessed:
You will be assessed on the following:

  • completeness of work; supply all the required items
  • timing / pacing; paced to maintain drama and interest
  • audio/ video synchronisation; matches the visuals
  • normal audio levels and clean "noise-free" audio.
  • adherence to design fundamentals (palette, unity, composition)
  • clarity of message (audio as well as visuals)


How good does it have to be?

If you're lip-synching it's surprising how little accuracy is needed to still convey meaningful animation.

Example: "Copyright"; James Heazlewood
Using the techniques covered in this lesson James Heazlewood (Diploma student 2008) used animation and dialogue to address what normally would have been a mundane Copyright Research assignment.

Download and play James's Diploma level product to get a sense of the caliber of lip synch. expected. (5MB, .swf format).

Play it with Flash Movie Player PC only (recommended) or with a Flash-enable browser.

For Cert3 students the expectation is to produce similar but around ten secs. duration.


Chris Adams 2017

Summary :

This lesson introduced animating to dialogue, recording audio and basic edits using Audacity then ended with an assessement to test your understanding of these techniques.

Never under-estimate the power of audio to enhance your story / narrative. Use audio wherever you can, it adds interest and information to visuals and especially animation.